Kolchak: The Night Stalker – my favorite horror TV episodes – Halloween edition

Kolchak - the night stalker pic 7

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Season 1, episode 1

Series 1974/1975 – 20 episodes – following two full-length made for TV movies

Darren McGavinKolchak tv pic 10
Simon Oakland
Jack Grinnage
Ruth McDevitt

Created by Jeff Rice
Directed by Allen Baron

The Ripper – S1 E1

Chicago, May 21st, 3:AM, location: the Boom Boom Room, Dancer Michelle Shiff dances her last number…forever.

A woman screams. A strange man darts from the dressing room leaving behind her mutilated body.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, several women at exotic dance clubs and seedy massage parlors are murdered by a strangely dressed assailant yielding a cane. (The cane pulls out into a sword.) Carl Kolchak, reporter for the Chicago Independent News Service,  arrives at each crime scene often before the police, much to the dismay of the police Captain.

There is a strong similarity in this case to the killing of five women in London, in 1888, by a murderer only known as, Jack the Ripper. Further Kolchak - the night stalker pic 3investigation leads Kolchak to believe that this killer, Jack the Ripper, and the killer in several other similar incidents, were committed by the same man. The killer travels from one city to another, killing five woman at a time, before moving on to the next. Germany, Italy, New York, five women murdered and mutilated through the years, all with the same MO.

The supernatural adversaries in the show were always interesting. They were always like super-villians, throwing police across the sidewalks, getting shot but not stopping, and displaying powers beyond normal humans. In this episode, the Ripper jumps from a four story building to the street, in order to evade police. Vincennzo is stuck between having the timid reporter, Updyke, writing a weak uninteresting story, or Kolchak going overboard with his story about a two hundred year old serial killer. Kolchak and Vincennzo argue and spar about the reports, which adds an exciting element to the hard-boiled reporter’s style.

They sure know how to ramp up the tension in these old shows and this episode sets the bar high for the series. Kolchak discovers the home of the Kolchak the ripper pic 16killer and enters it looking for clues. Naturally, the Ripper comes home while Carl is in the house, and the reporter nearly dies trying to get that elusive photograph.

This is the first episode of the series and although the music and some of the ideas are dated, the show is still entertaining. Much of that is because Darren McGavin plays a convincing role making you want to believe stories that should be relegated to Weekly World News, and tabloids that concentrate on the weird and paranormal. I enjoy his acting and personality whether he’s playing Carl Kolchak, or the father in A Christmas Story. Simon Oakland as Vincenzo is the perfect counter to Carl’s insanity.

Fun Facts:

The Characters and story line were based on novels by Jeff Rice. 

Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson had worked together on the previous made-for-TV-movies, but declined to work on the series.

Darren McGavin declined to renew his contract after 20 episodes because he had taken on the producer’s role in a struggle to make the show better and never received credit for it (or pay). There were 3 scripted but un-filmed episodes at the time of his departure.

8 thoughts on “Kolchak: The Night Stalker – my favorite horror TV episodes – Halloween edition

    • I would also love to see a reboot of this series, if not as films then as a TV series. The trick, I think, is finding the right actor to play Kolchak. As this review suggests, Darren McGavin really made the TV-movies click.

      But who could straddle the right horror/silliness tone? Bruce Campbell comes to mind…

      • Bruce Campbell would be excellent for a reboot. 🙂

        Have you read the story or seen the movie The Night Flier? (Stephen King) It has a similar premise, a reporter for an underground tabloid that specializes in weird and macabre stories, investigates different phenomenon. He usually has to make up the story, knowing it’s all fake. But this one time he is proven wrong. It’s an interesting premise.

    • No doubt, they had bigger budgets and Richard Matheson writing. The series had different writers and directors for each episode so they are hit or miss. This is one of the best of the series 🙂

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